Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Cover image

Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith (9780062869944)

Through a series of linked short stories and poems, readers get to join young Native people from across the United States and Canada as they converge in Michigan for an intertribal powwow. Written by new and familiar Native authors, these stories speak to the various ways that Native families and youth stay connected or find new connection with their cultural heritage. From the World’s Best Fry Bread to dancing in regalia to solving powwow mysteries to selling items from booths, this book invites readers to experience the powwow at different levels while also connecting to nature, ancestors and shared humor and tales.

The most impressive part of this collection of short stories and poems is that they are all so impressive. Each story has its own voice and point of view, featured characters and tribal connections, yet they come together in a remarkable way where they lift one another up. The stories have shared characters, including a dog who sells t-shirts, a girl selling raffle tickets and a young detective. These elements help tie the tales together, but it is the strength of the writing of each story that really makes the book work.

The final poem of the book takes the drum beat that has been happening throughout the book and shows the power of the powwow and the importance of the experience for all who attend. It’s the ideal way to wrap up a book that offers so much joy, connectivity and community.

One of the best short story collections for children ever, this belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Heartdrum.

The Crossroads at Midnight by Abby Howard

Cover image

The Crossroads at Midnight by Abby Howard (9781945820687)

This graphic novel offers a series of strange and tantalizing short stories sure to give readers the shivers. Set in ordinary places like the beach, on a farm, and near a lake, these stories take the mundane and make it strange and horrifying. From a lonely girl who discovers the terrifying truth of what happened on the farm next door to a young girl who meets a boy on the beach who becomes her best friend but who only comes out at night, these stories invite readers to look under the surface to the darkness and weirdness that lurks there. The stories also ask whether monsters are kind or cruel, and how we know what a monster actually is. Some people trust too much, others too little and some find a new path.

I’m a huge fan of Howard’s 2020 graphic novel The Last Halloween: Children. She uses the same gorgeous pen and ink illustrations here, once again creating a world adjacent to our own that is bewildering and yet familiar. Her skill with storytelling is clear as she creates one tale after the other, stringing them together into a beautiful yet horrifying collection that can’t be put down.

She manages to quickly bring us into each story with both her text and her illustrations, showing us at first how normal each scene is and then swiftly ripping that away. It’s a pleasure to experience each reveal, timed just right for maximum impact and then to have the story play out in unexpected and surprising ways.

A great graphic novel for teen horror fans. Best read after dark. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Iron Circus Comics.

Review: Black Enough edited by Ibi Zoboi

black enough edited by ibi zoboi

Black Enough edited by Ibi Zoboi (9780062698742)

This short story collection for teens contains writing from the best African-American writers for teens. The list of authors is awe inducing. One after another is a thrilling author to read, particularly in short story format. Each of the stories is a winning entry too. Some are lighthearted like the story by Jason Reynolds. Others are more serious, looking deeply at issues in the African-American community. Many of them deal with intersectionality, offering characters who are also LGBTQ or of different faiths. The array of stories speaks to the diversity of the African-American experience, often playing directly against stereotypes to look more closely at being a teen of color in America.

Incredible authors come together to create an anthology that is very impressive. The interplay of the stories as edited by Zoboi makes for a fascinating journey through the various facets and aspects of being an African-American teen. Teens of various levels of wealth and poverty, interests and hobbies appear in the anthology often interacting with one another in the stories. There is such richness in these stories, many of which could be used in classrooms to start discussions but all of them can be simply enjoyed by teen readers.

This is a must-read and must-have for all libraries serving teens. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.

Review: Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton

Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton

Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton (9780525580966)

Take a dazzling and frightening look at our potential future in this novel for teens. Told in six linked stories, the novel starts in the near future with a look at the moral medical questions of saving one twin by killing the other. Things only get more complicated from there with genetic modifications becoming more and more prevalent. Where does a human end and a cyborg begin? What happens when a modified human loses empathy but gains so much intelligence? What about cryogenics when it falls into the wrong hands? Can humans evolve so far that they appear to be another species entirely? Each story takes the reader farther from the present day and into a wild exploration of the depths of genetic modification taken to the logical extreme.

Dayton could have created six stand-alone stories but instead wisely chose to tie all of them together but not in an expected way. Instead of one of the main characters, it is a minor but majorly influential character who is in the background of all of the stories, making an appearance himself or just having his theories mentioned. He is a religious man who starts out believing that genetic modification is the work of the devil and creates demons but then has his own personal experience with death and genetics and finds a way to become the leading figure in promoting genetic modification.

Dayton keeps a firm hand on the politics of her world as well, setting one of her stories in Australia and another in Russia while the remainder take place in the United States. This global focus allows readers to see more deeply into the divided views on genetic modification and also to see more of the questions related to how far it is alright to take this. Each of Dayton’s stories is an ethical question wrapped in a taut and fascinating plot in a shared world.

Brilliant and timely, this novel for teens is remarkable in its ethical and open questions. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Delacorte Press.

 

Review: Fresh Ink edited by Lamar Giles

Fresh Ink edited by Lamar Giles

Fresh Ink edited by Lamar Giles (9781524766283)

Explore diversity in a variety of ways in this anthology for teens that offers fresh takes on life. The anthology includes work from thirteen young adult authors. Short stories, a one-act play and a graphic story are all part of the collection. The authors are some of the best writers at work today as you can see from the cover image above. The collection is rich in diversity and voices, featuring stories about race, coming out, death, spray paint and making your mark on the world.

Giles, who is cofounder of We Need Diverse Books, has edited this collection very well. The group of contributors is astounding, each new story shining with their skill and voice. The quality is exceptional and the range of stories leads you from one type of diversity to another, exploring finding your way in a world that stands against you.

Strong writing, great stories and a call to action will make this collection a popular one. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from copy provided by Random House Children’s Books.

 

Review: A Thousand Beginnings and Endings

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman (9780062671158)

This collection of short stories is lush and beautiful. Written by fifteen female authors of Asian descent, the stories are modern twists on more traditional tales. Using the folklore of East and South Asia, the stories in this book take those tales and modernize them with clear feminist and girl-power themes. The stories are grand, mythological, stirring, and amazing. Readers will find themselves swept away, learning of myths they have never heard before and finding new ways to love tales they grew up with.

Compiled by Ellen Oh, the CEO of We Need Diverse Books, these stories are women speaking from their own diverse backgrounds. One of the most vital components of the book are the short paragraphs that follow each of the stories, tying them to that author’s upbringing, the original tales, and explaining their inspiration. Throughout the book there are themes of love and loss, death and redemption. No matter whether they are fantasy or contemporary fiction, these stories are each tantalizing and rich.

One of the best teen short story collections I have read in recent years, this one should be in every public library. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Greenwillow Books.

Short Stories for Little Monsters by Marie-Louise Gay

Short Stories for Little Monsters by Marie-Louise Gay

Short Stories for Little Monsters by Marie-Louise Gay (9781554988969, Amazon)

A series of cartoons make up these short stories for children. The stories are so short that most of them take up only a page or two. They are very short stories about imagination, becoming invisible (maybe), and whether there are sharks in the water. Other stories are about the speed of snails, the wonder of worms and the secret powers of mothers. In each story, children are the stars and they are busy asking questions, making messes and being creative.

Gay is the author of Any Questions? and it has the same energy of that book. In this newer book there is less of a focus, giving lots of opportunity to find something that captures your attention or makes you think differently. The children are questioning, sometimes rather naughty and easy to relate to. They make messes and figure things out. Readers will love the running snail jokes and the sharp humor.

Thanks to its comic-book format, the book is more for elementary-aged children than preschoolers. It may actually do better in your children’s graphic novels and find the right audience there. The illustrations have a dynamic feel to them, capturing children running, playing and creating. The loose lines add to the playful nature of the entire book.

A welcoming book of super short stories that is sure to appeal. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean

Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean

Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean edited by Kirsty Murray, Pagal Dhar and Anita Roy (9781481470575, Amazon)

This is an incredible collection of speculative short stories written by young adult authors from India and Australia. The authors worked in teams across the two countries, and the results are short stories, graphic shorts, and even a play. The quality of the collection is tremendous, showing a depth of understanding of what happens to women in our cultures and how that might play out in the future. There are stories where the women are in power and men are considered lesser, stories where women are just starting to take their rightful place, and others where the struggle is very much like it is today. Each has a ray of hope, a path forward if only we are brave enough to take it.

Readers of these short stories will love that the authors have longer books to explore. The voices here are rich and varied, still there is a sense of unity in this collection thanks to the overarching theme of women and girls and their rights. Make sure to read the final section of the book that speaks to the collaborations and how the authors worked together.

Entirely thoughtful, strongly progressive and profoundly feminist, this collection of short stories is exceptional. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.

 

Flying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh

flying-lessons-and-other-stories-by-ellen-oh

Flying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh (InfoSoup)

This is a simply incredible collection of stories that feature middle-school children from a variety of diverse backgrounds. The authors of the stories are the best in the children’s book business, including Kwame Alexander, Tim Federle, Matt de la Pena, Tim Tingle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, and Jacqueline Woodson. The stories feed into one another, creating a quilt where the patches are of different colors and textures but the quilt is one unified structure. The stories feature children of color, children who are LGBT, and those who are differently-abled. It is a book about our differences and our similarities, a book about what makes each of us fly.

There are several stories that will stick with me. The one by Matt de la Pena has a gorgeous tone to it, almost oration where the reader is being spoken directly to about opportunities, hard work and taking risks. It’s all about basketball, the art of the game and the willingness to put yourself out there and play. Grace Lin’s is an wonderful mix of humor and drama, showing reading as a way forward into a life of adventure and individuality. Woodson’s story is spare and lovely, looking directly at racism and staring it down with friendship. The others are marvelous too, I could write about each of them in turn, each just as special and jeweled as the last.

This is a book that should be in all libraries, it speaks to the power of diverse books in our communities, their ability to transform all of us no matter what our background or color. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Crown Books for Young Readers and NetGalley.